7 Ways to Avoid GroupThink

So many examples of poor decisions can be traced GroupThink.  From Nazi Germany to the Bay of Pigs to the Challenger disaster- each one could have been avoided if special attention was devoted to preventing GroupThink.

The theory of GroupThink was developed by Irving Janis, and is defined as “a mode of thinking that people engage in when they are deeply involved in a cohesive in-group, when the members’ striving for unanimity overrides their motivation to realistically appraise alternative courses of action.”

Many managers work hard to create group cohesiveness and find people with similar backgrounds and personality types in order to reduce conflict.  The unfortunate side effect of that effort is that GroupThink will impede the ability to explore alternatives, examine thought processes, challenge assumptions, question power, and be open to new ideas.

According to Janis, GroupThink results in the following:

  1. Incomplete survey of alternatives
  2. Incomplete survey of objectives
  3. Failure to examine risks of preferred choice
  4. Failure to reevaluate previously rejected alternatives
  5. Poor information search
  6. Selection bias in collecting information
  7. Failure to work out contingency plans.

However, GroupThink can be avoided with these 7 steps (also developed by Irving Janis):

  1. Leaders should assign each member the role of “critical evaluator”. This allows each member to freely air objections and doubts.
  2. Higher-ups should not express an opinion when assigning a task to a group.
  3. The organization should set up several independent groups, working on the same problem.
  4. All effective alternatives should be examined.
  5. Each member should discuss the group’s ideas with trusted people outside of the group.
  6. The group should invite outside experts into meetings. Group members should be allowed to discuss with and question the outside experts.
  7. At least one group member should be assigned the role of Devil’s advocate. This should be a different person for each meeting.

What other steps can be taken to avoid GroupThink in highly cohesive groups?

Editor’s Note: Breanne Harris is the Solutions Architect for Pearson TalentLens.  She works with customers to design selection and development plans that incorporate critical thinking assessments and training.  She has a Master’s degree in Organizational Psychology and has experience in recruiting, training, and HR consulting.  She is the chief blogger for Critical Thinkers and occasionally posts at ThinkWatson.  Connect with her on LinkedIn and Twitter for more of her thoughts.

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4 responses to “7 Ways to Avoid GroupThink”

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